The McDonald's Menu Song

As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Feb 2009)

           Like many academic nerd-types with a flair for the dramatic, I was an active member of my high school’s Model UN club. Hundreds of students would gather at a hotel for the weekend, dress up in their pre-professional best and, as mock delegates of their assigned nations, propose resolutions to the most pressing international issues of the day. What 16-year-old wouldn’t jump all over that?

            Conferences typically took place hours away by chartered bus. For the longest trips we would leave at night, arriving at an hour few teenagers wish to see unless they are still awake from the night before. One could argue that we were, in fact, still awake by that hour, as fitful naps overnight on a bouncing bus do not constitute “sleep” by any reasonable definition.

            At around 11pm during one such trip, my friend Mitch and I discovered our mutual interest in the then new McDonald’s Menu Song. No, no, no. Not “Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries, …”. That was kid stuff. This was the entire menu compressed into one brisk, vocally gymnastic, 30-second commercial. A mini-recording had been distributed in newspapers nationwide with the promise of a cash prize if the singers got to the end of the song. Though neither Mitch nor I had “won” by that narrow definition, the recordings did enable us to memorize the lyrics just for the mental exercise. Did I mention that we were academic nerd-types?

            Despite our individual efforts prior to this trip, we found gaps where each of us had missed or misunderstood key words in the song. Who was right? Now before us was an opportunity to put our weeks of training in diplomacy and collaboration to real-world use. In the true spirit of the UN, we came together to address a matter of great international significance. Seriously, what country didn’t have McDonald’s? Soon we could get through the entire song, and we knew that world peace could not be far behind. To add that dash of challenge, we practiced singing it all in one breath. Yes! Aim high, delegates!

            In time we moved on to other conversations, and ultimately, to attempted sleep. Suddenly the lights came on and we were ordered off the bus. Hours had passed – it was now around 5:00am – but it felt like minutes. And isn’t something intrinsically wrong with waking people up for a rest stop? We stumbled off the bus, crossed the parking lot, and felt our way through the blurry, double glass doors. Ahh. The scent of flaky, golden brown goodness surrounded me like a warm blanket. Most of the others grumbled straight to the restrooms, but I and a few friends headed for the lineless McDonald’s counter. My friends ordered and paid as other semi-conscious students fell in behind us. Then it was my turn.

            Because I am shy and hate talking to strangers, I immediately asked the cashier whether I might win anything by reciting the Menu Song. She understood; the commercial was on constant rotation at this time. Even the disposable tray liner on the counter between us featured the song’s “lyrics.” While the cashier checked with her Manager, I glanced downward and found the one phrase Mitch and I could not untangle on our own. The cashier returned with news that success would bring me a free sandwich. Before I could respond, I turned to notice dozens of my fellow students watching me. The student grapevine had already spread the word about my coming attempt, and the murmur of the growing crowd sounded not unlike the intro to Jeopardy!. When I turned back to the counter, my friend Lisa massaged my shoulders, Rocky-style, and gave me a pep talk à la, “Alright Nicole! It’s all you! You can do this!” Then all voices faded as the cashier pulled the tray liner beneath her side of the counter, set her eyes on it, and nodded for me to begin. The Manager looked on, and I took in a long, Eau-de-Hashbrown-infused breath.


            Success. One breath. I heard cheers and applause above my own desperate gasps for air. The Manager was so impressed that she gave me not only a sandwich, but my entire breakfast for free. Now that’s customer service. On my way to a table I ran into Mitch, who had appeared just in time to realize he’d missed something. I leaned towards his ear.

            “Hey,” I said as one might utter Psst to a co-conspirator in a shady alley. I held up my heavy tray. “Free breakfast if you can recite the Menu Song.”

            His eyebrows flew upward. “Really?”

            I nodded. He vanished.

            It was not unusual for student groups to have a crack-o-dawn meal forced upon them after a disagreeable overnight bus ride. It was tradition. But few would earn that meal through their own mental sweat. Indeed, Mitch and I had lovingly dusted and polished the “useless knowledge” compartments of our brains for years while others had ceded the entire wing to cobwebs and disrepair. I saw him a few minutes later with a full breakfast and a satisfied smile. As he raised his tray to me from across the room, we exchanged the nod of the secretly smug. Oh yeah, baby. It’s not always about honors, scholarships or future careers. Sometimes it just pays to be a nerd.